Dear Commons Community,
Republican and Democratic mayoral candidates were divided over education policy during a town-hall debate last night at the Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue. Sponsored by the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and the Daily News, the event drew a packed house. I was able to attend the debate compliments of a ticket from my colleague, David Bloomfield. Seven candidates were present including: Tom Allon, Bill deBlasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn, Joe Lhota, Bill Thompson and John Catsimatidis. All of the candidates were generally very critical of the present condition of the public schools although none of them mentioned Mayor Mike Bloomberg by name. Here are some of the highlights:
Teacher Retention and Attrition
Quinn: We should explore a teacher mentor system. Mentioned CUNY as willing to set up an institute to establish such a system.
Lhota: Adopt a merit pay system similar to Newark and we should stop vilifying teachers.
deBlasio: Student performance should be part of evaluation but keep in mind that most teachers are in the public schools for the right reasons. There has been a corrosive effect on their morale due to standardized testing and a curriculum based on test preparation.
Thompson: Parents and peers should be part of the evaluation system.
Allon: Supports small schools and choice but a major problem has been a lack of support for principals. He also called for more instructional leadership and singled out the NYC Leadership Academy as having undermined teaching and learning.
Thompson: Options are necessary but there is a need to involve the people in the community.
Liu: Choice has value but the deck is stacked in favor of the charters because they enroll fewer English language learners and children with special needs. Also he would stop all co-locations of charters in public schools. He dubbed the strategy a “shell game” — and ripped the popular practice of placing charter schools in public school buildings as a “mess that fermented tensions and divisions in the neighborhood.”
Lhota: Charters provide choice.
Closure of Public Schools
Quinn: The present system sees the closure of a public school as an accomplishment when it should see it as a failure on its part to correct problems. Several of the other candidates made a similar comment.
Catsimatidis: Sometimes you have to shake things up.
deBlasio: Would raise taxes on all residents making in excess of $500,000 to set up a special school fund. He would use the increased revenue to fund universal, all-day pre-k and after hours programs for middle schools.
Allon: Raising taxes on the wealthy will drive them out of the City. Look at contracts and private service providers. Pearson is making “a mint” on public education.
High School Graduation and College Readiness
Lhota: As a CUNY trustee for twelve years, he has seen that most NYC high school graduates are not ready for college. In the past year, 81% of the applicants to CUNY who graduated from NYC public schools were not ready and needed remediation.
Liu: We need to increase the number of college graduates among NYC residents. He would set a goal of increasing the percentage of college graduates in the City to 60% by 2025.
In sum, I thought it was a very important event for public education in New York City and that the candidates had done their homework.